Last week was a big week for architecture and the worldview communicated by Rem Koolhaas: Tuesday at the AA; Wednesday lunch and evening at the RIBA; Thursday at a packed Union Chapel. It is indisputable that he is a popular Gold Medallist.
Tuesday was the London launch of Content.
A lecture flicked through 544 pages of this part comic, part magazine, part catalogue publication. Typically and paradoxically, it was welcome home for a man whose home is London (lives here, operates elsewhere).Anyway, as he concluded following awkward questions, it was not an academic lecture, but he could deliver those as well.
Wednesday and on to the RIBA - I missed the lunchtime lecture. As expected, the evening event was not as expected.
True, the president's introduction and Farshid Moussavi's eloquent citation were versions of the norm. Indeed, Koolhaas' acceptance speech, though spiky and concise, followed the anticipated structure: credit (engineering's No 9 - Cecil Balmond - got the only mention) and reflection (he liked the medal as he had come to see it as a reward for the relentless pursuit of eccentricity).
But there were no slides and Alejandro Zaera Polo arrived on stage for a conversation.This is difficult at any time, but particularly when your 'subject' is your former tutor and a wordsmith to boot. An evening of intrigue followed.Yes, London is both a refuge and an inspiration; a city of dense activity; open to change, and therefore a mess.No, he was not impressed by power but by powerlessness and power.His recollection of his meeting with George Bush Sr differed from Alejandro's recollection of his recollection: no; the president transmitted neither aura nor power; in fact he was grey, as his vomiting at an event shortly afterwards confirmed.
On architecture and heroes: no, he did write about them, particularly Mies. What of Eisenman's tree diagram? Koolhaas and Venturi together on a branch apart from Eisenman and Rossi, while the matrix of Utopian Visions brought Koolhaas and Eisenman together; opposed to Rossi and Venturi! The demolition was complete; Rossi's dead and Peter's just looking to extend his shelf life.
Yes, Prada is about power.Yes, Jacques Herzog's Tokyo Store was the number one hit in 2003.Pushed, he concurred that 'an object could be an architectural masterpiece and totally dysfunctional'.Qualification: this would not be acceptable to him in his architecture.Why should he reveal his thoughts on Herzog & de Meuron's Tokyo Prada? Because he's 'Rem'and, as he advised, his writing can be both 'dishonest and heartfelt'. He was flattered that the citation mentioned the Midas touch.
Qualification: he was not an alchemist but he could make us believe that he might be.
I have known of OMA since entering the world of architecture in the '80s. I admire Koolhaas'ability to produce buildings that are not merely objects.To produce texts which stimulate not only his architecture but also that of others. I see in him something of his heroes - not least Cedric Price. Despite the title, he is never content with the content; yet, chased by the 'others', he is confident he will remain ahead.He has dared to identify 'Miestakes'and upset the Mies Police, has swallowed Mies at IIT and been digested by Mies at Berlin's National Gallery; and survived and prospered.
At Cedric's memorial, in a very serious speech, Koolhaas used a typically witty wordplay (which Cedric would have enjoyed/could have said/would have liked to have said): Cedric was a 'prince who wanted to be a frog'.
Frog, prince or chameleon? Perhaps Koolhaas can be all of these.But he is one of the few architects whose speculations are eagerly anticipated by all and whose works/writings provoke an architectural response.